This week’s best concerts: Mary J. Blige, Kelsea Ballerini, Wyclef Jean and more

Published February 14

LEGEND IN THE MAKING: Kelsea Ballerini

Coming off a debut with three No. 1 singles — Love Me Like You Mean It, Dibs and Peter Pan — it’s no surprise Kelsea Ballerini was feeling the pressure before dropping her sophomore album Unapologetically last fall. "For a while, I was a little bit crippled by it," the rising country star said by phone recently. "I didn’t know what direction to go in. But then when it was almost time to make this album, and I was listening to the demos of the songs that I had written, that’s when I kind of realized, (A) I really love and believe in these songs, and (B) they tell a story." Ballerini, 24, has a pretty good story herself — unknown and independent coming out of Knoxville, Tenn., she earned a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist in 2017, and was up for the CMAs’ Female Vocalist of the Year three straight years. The polished but personal Unapologetically, on which she again wrote or co-wrote every song, further positions her to win a few of those trophies someday. In the meantime, she’ll bring her new headlining tour to Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen-Booth Road in Clearwater, at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Walker Hayes opens. $38.25 and up. (727) 791-7400.

Click here for more with Kelsea Ballerini.


Mary J. Blige has nine Grammys, but she might be about to bring home her first Oscar. She’s up for two Academy Awards for Netflix’s World War II-era drama Mudbound, one for Best Supporting Actress and another for Best Original Song (Mighty River). Whatever accolades Hollywood wants to toss Blige’s way is all good by us, so long as she keeps her legendary pipes in touring shape. In addition to being one of pop music’s great collaborators, Blige is a phenomenally passionate live performer, as you’ll see when she performs at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 21 at Amalie Arena, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. $47.25 and up. (813) 301-2500.


Oh, what could have been. After running until 2016 in St. Petersburg, WhigFest has for months been planning a grand two-day revival in Ybor City. But last month, planned main-stage venue the Cuban Club bowed out, citing structural problems. Organizers scrambled to relocate to the Ritz Ybor, the Orpheum, the Attic and First Chance Last Chance, all while downsizing from two days to one. The music lineup still looks good, with headlining jam-fusion favorites Umphrey’s McGee playing two long sets at the Ritz and strong Florida acts Polyenso, Swimm, Plastic Pinks and Pleasures among the 20-plus others on the bill. It all starts at 3 p.m. Sunday. $40 and up.


How many offers must Wyclef Jean get each year to reunite the Fugees to headline some festival or another? Nothing against his, Pras’ or Lauryn Hill’s solo output, but seeing the Fugees rock the top of a Voodoo or Rolling Loud poster would definitely perk up some eyebrows. It won’t happen anytime soon, though, so we might as well take the odd ’Clef solo show while we can. He’ll mix Fugees and solo hits alongside Roots of Creation at 8 p.m. Sunday at Jannus Live, 200 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg. $26 and up. (727) 565-0550.

>DON’T WAIT: Paula Cole >

Next week marks the 20th anniversary of Paula Cole’s big night at the Grammys. Her breakthrough LP This Fire earned seven nominations, tied with Puff Daddy for the second most of the year — the ’90s were a strange time, kids — including Album, Record and Song of the Year and a win for Best New Artist. Two decades later, Where Have All the Cowboys Gone? and I Don’t Want To Wait still rule, and Cole’s proved a resilient and influential artist, even spending a little time teaching at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Of all the intimate singer-songwriters shows hosted so far at the Attic, 1510 E Eighth Ave. in Ybor City, this should be one of the best.
8 p.m. Saturday (7 p.m. VIP). $50 and up. (813) 241-0110.


Speaking of the ’90s, how fun is it to see Sponge in these parts? Granted, it’s been a minute since Vinnie Dombroski and his Detroit scuzz-rockers moved the needle on modern rock radio, but their biggest hits from back in the day — Plowed, Molly and Wax Ecstatic (To Sell Angelina) — have aged better than a lot of other Buzz Bin also-rans. There’s zero chance the crowd won’t be screaming "Sixteen candles down the draiiiiiiin!" when they perform at 7 p.m. Friday at the Brass Mug, 1450 Skipper Road, Tampa. Murder the Crow, Oxmoore, Jackmantra and Stranger than Fiction open. $17 and up. (813) 972-8152.